While tramping the Paparoa Track, Tara Papworth met a teenaged unicyclist who believes that wherever two wheels can go, one wheel can too
Macgregor Jones likes a challenge. When a slip stopped the 17-year-old and his family from riding the newly-opened Paparoa Track last year, he decided to unicycle the length of it when they rebooked last October.
The Year 12 Waimea College student says he first got onto a unicycle at eight years old when his primary school bought four of them. “We mucked about at school learning how to ride them. I liked it, so got my own one not long after. When I was 12, I decided I wanted to try riding tracks and trails, so I got a slightly bigger mountain unicycle,” he says.
“Wherever mountain bikes go, I’ll try to go on my unicycle. I’ll ask myself: where people go down a track on two wheels, can I go down it on one?”
The Paparoa Track is the first multiday trip he’s done on a unicycle, although he’s previously completed the 27km Nydia Bay Track in the Marlborough Sounds. “I feel more comfortable on a uni than I do on a bike,” he says. “Living where we do, we’re second best for mountain biking in the country, so I’m always up in the hills.”
Jones built the mountain unicycle he used for the Paparoa Trail himself, sourcing many parts locally. It’s equipped for the trails with a brake lever under the seat and a chunky mountain bike tyre.
There are no gears but the pedals can be shifted in and out to make the ride easier, harder, smoother or faster. “If they’re far out it’s like having a lower gear, so it’s easier to pedal, but you can’t go as fast because it’s a bigger rotation. If I move them in, there’s less torque so it’s harder to go uphill, but you can go a lot faster, or it’s a lot smoother.”
Jones didn’t ride a lot of the 20km uphill from Smoke-ho car park to Moonlight Tops Hut because it’s quite steep and rocky. “It took me about four hours, but probably about 60 per cent of the time I was walking. It was a long slog up the hill, and I’m glad we got it out of the way in one day. You can’t go down unless you go up,” he says.
The next two days were much quicker. “My average moving speed was around 10km/h, with a max speed of nearly 24km/h,” he says. “I can’t freewheel on a unicycle, so I have to pedal the whole time – it’s a good workout!”
He carries everything he needs in a pack and having the extra 8-10kg on his back doesn’t make a huge amount of difference to how he rides. “Having the pack on my back just shifts my centre of gravity, and I lean to counter it. You do feel the pack when getting on or off, but riding along I hardly notice it.”
Although he can fall, Jones says it’s not really ‘falling off’, rather he just takes his feet off the pedals and the unicycle falls down. “I’m still standing up – that’s one of the good things about it. Occasionally I’ll be riding along and something will come out of nowhere and suddenly I’m no longer on it. Downhill’s a lot easier because you’ve got gravity with you and the faster you’re going the easier it is to stay on – up to a point.”
Jones rates the Paparoa Track for unicyclists. “It’s really well-built and smooth. Some parts, I was just going as fast as I could in the middle of incredible scenery – there wasn’t any time where I wasn’t enjoying myself.”